Friday, November 30, 2012

NaNoWriMo Day 30

Crow knew many of the residents of the Augusta Inn by the unique stamp of their feet. Chalmers walked with a heavy stomp, quick thuds. Misty was more like a slow, sliding shuffle, like brushes across a drum head, as was her older daughter and middle child. The baby, Jeramie, was a lighter version of his father, thumping along precariously in his first footsteps. And the heavy foot traffic of visitors was easy to tell. The pipes right above where Crow left always gurgled and rushed with the sound of running water whenever anyone used a sink or flushed a toilet.


Crow had no access to the other floors. The basement entrance was outside. It used to be two doors covering the stairs leading down, but those had been replaced by a fence with plastic slats, and plastic overhang to keep rain from the roof from pooling at the bottom of the steps. Despite these efforts, there was almost always some puddle at the landing. Right inside the door was the laundry room, a washing machine, dryer, and a couple metal clothes racks, from which hung a few dusty, unclaimed coats and hangers in a variety of sizes and styles.


At one point, the basement was one open room, but sometime after the Vanderhoys died out, one of the series of owners leading up to Bob Stoops, the current owner, had tried to capitalize on the extra space by charging renters for storage. Plywood walls were erected and pieces of plywood attached with a hinge were secured closed with combination locks. Although none of the current renters used the space, three of the four "rooms" were locked tight and had not been accessed in years.


The room where Crow slept was different. It had walls made of concrete blocks and its entrance had no door. The furnace, water heater, the electric box and meters were in here, so the room had to be accessible. The one window opened out from a hinge on top. Crow had rigged it so that it looked closed, but if he slid a carefully placed piece of cardboard, he could unsecure the window and gain access by sliding in and landing on an old kitchen counter.  He kept his bedding stash pieces of cardboard to lay on tucked away in the back of the cabinets. He slept on the other side of the furnace, between it and the wall, so that even if the rare surprise visitor happened to walk in on him, he could curl up his knees and disappear from sight. Crow had only been surprised once in the five years he'd made use of this room. One early February morning Stoops (who didn't know about Crow and would likely evict him for "insurance reasons" and on general principle that he was not paying rent) and a meter reader came in. Crow hunkered in the shadows as long as he could as the men kept their backs turned to him. They left the room in a minute.


Every once in a while, a resident would discover Crow as he was coming or going. Once, when confronted, he said he was friends with Mackey, and asked for him. No one, beyond the errant rat or spider, had ever caught him asleep in his hideaway corner.


Crow tried not to take advantage of the accomodations. He had a couple places on the ISNU campus where he could sleep in a pinch, and if he needed to be indoors during inclement weather, there was always the public library or the vast stacks at the university. The university library also had the extra advantage of being open until 2 a.m. during the school year and 24 hours a day during finals weeks.


As a general trend, Crow, never much of a social butterfly by nature, became even more introspective during the fall and winter months. It was easy, he'd long ago discovered, to live unnoticed on the periphery, to keep one's contact with civilization to the wee hours, and to mind one's days in nature and solitude. In these later seasons, the cold motivated him to suspend his can collecting operations. It was also unprofitable during the holiday break.


Before returning to the Augusta Inn near Christmas time, Crow had spent most of his time in the large forest preserve north of town. Because there were cross country ski trails throughout the preserve, the county rented out a shelter house year round. It was near the entrance to the forest preserve, but to Crow's benefit the bathroom was often unlocked. It was convenient to use, and, more important, the sink had potable running water, which Crow stocked up on, using a liter bottle cut in half to fill up four gallon jugs. It was often sweaty, difficult work, but on the weekends, when he could be assured the bathroom was open (for it would most likely be locked during the week, he discovered), Crow would stock up on water for the week. He could get by on a gallon or a little less per day. Freezing was a problem in winter months, so Crow kept the water stashed in a compost pile he'd put together at the base of a pine tree, essentially a pile of leaves, dirt and duff that put out a surprising amount of heat as it decomposed. Crow could pull out a jug, and not only would it not be frozen, but when he poured himself a cup of water it steamed.


Crow loved living in nature. He found its slower rhythms and quietude good for his spirit. Buck deer would sometimes snort at him in the middle of the night to assert their territorial rights. Skunks, raccoons, possum, crows and robber jays often visited his camps. If he needed meat, rabbit and squirrel were in plentiful supply, and fairly easy to trap. Though Crow still liked to rely on dumpster diving for most of his food. He found hunting and foraging often consumed more calories than he gained for his efforts. It was far more profitable to venture into town and live off the discards of others.


In the winter, the nights were long, and condensation made it hard to keep things dry. But Crow had good camp skills and stayed comfortable. He found the extra darkness enervating, and would sleep 10 to 12 hours each night. This is the way people were meant to live, Crow thought, with the cycle of the seasons. Most of the psychosis and illnesses of modern life, cancer and diabetes, stress headaches, heart attacks and the like were a result of humanity's disconnect from the cycles of nature. In this way, Crow thought, animals were smarter than humans. Electricity and the combustion engine had provided a buffer zone, cutting off people from nature and creating a 24-hour, seven days a week mad rush to consume. It was the great beast called society, and by its very disconnect from nature, it threatened to destroy what it did not know.


The only thing that worried Crow during these long nights of slumber and short days of ease was he was beginning to question his sanity. He'd always had a strong inner dialogue, which gave him the ability to live alone without feeling lonely, but in the last few weeks he'd caught himself talking out loud, and to those long gone from his life, his deceased ex-wife Deborah, and his missing son, Jamie.


"Would you check out the knot of that tree. I bet that would put off a good fireworks show if it was in a fir, Debbie girl," Crow said. Or, when hunting, he would talk to his son, giving instruction as if he were there. "Now, why would I place the string like that?" Crow asked. "You're right. It's so that it remains taut. Remember what I said. The string is a spring."


Often, Crow would catch himself and smile at the foolishness of talking to himself. Other times, he would relive family dialogues from years past, vivid arguments about past money problems or schooling decisions for Jamie. He would get worked up to a tizzy, get downright irate, and then reach a peak of emotion that would break the spell. He'd look around and realize he was in the woods -- alone -- of course, for now, until someone heard him and locked him away.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

NaNoWriMo day 29

"Elfjin and I have been through a lot together," Stella said. "I originally won him at a carnival, so he was the product of achievement. But shortly thereafter I got a really bad case of chicken pox. I hear kids don't get that anymore. I guess my generation was the last to go through that rite of passage. But my case of chicken pox was awful. I still have scars on my forehead and arms. See?"


Stella tilted her forehead towards the light. Gerald looked closer. This would be a good opportunity for that kiss... But not yet. She showed him her arm. He grabbed her by the hand, looked at her face for approval, and stroked her inner arm.


"Feel it," Stella said, barely, in a whisper. "There. And there."


"Right," Gerald said. He let go of Stella's arm, but she stayed closer, sitting on the end of her bed.


 "Ouch. I imagine those must have been awful. I had chicken pox when I was in Kindergarten, but it was mild. The only thing I remember from that time is that I got to drink grape soda, and I drank so much I got sick, and I can't drink grape soda to this day. Grape juice. No problem. But grape soda? No way."


"Goodie," Stella exclaimed. "More for me. I love grape soda."


"You can have it," Gerald said, and made retching motions, pretending to put his finger down his throat. "But what about this here Elfjin? You won him at a carnival and he saw you through the chicken pox. Why is he your favorite?"


"I guess I always root for the underdog," Stella said. "Look at him. He's all homely looking and warty. Somebody needs to love him. Plus, when I had the chicken pox and was all covered in painful, weeping sores, I looked at Elfjin and didn't feel so bad. He's warty. I mean, that's a permanent condition. Somehow I took solace in that."


"Would that be an example of Schadenfreude?" Gerald asked.


"I don't know," Stella said. "As I understand it, doesn't Schadenfreude imply that you are taking joy in the suffering of others because they deserve it?"


"Possibly. Or it could be a case of There-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I."


"That sounds like catharsis. Like Greek tragedy."


"I don't know. When I think of Schadenfreude, I think of just desserts. When I think of catharsis, I feel a sense of relief that it wasn't me, and also a feeling that what I feel catharsis for didn't necessarily deserve the tragedy that befell it.


"Honestly," Gerald continued. "I haven't given it much thought at all. I'm totally BSing right now."


"That's okay," Stella said. "I am too, but I heard a professor talk about it once in a class. And I love tragedies. Shakespearean and Greek."


"God, I can't remember the last time I went to a play. It has to have been at least 10 years."


"I'll have to drag you out sometime. The university puts on student productions a few times a year. Many of them are written by students as a master's thesis. I go to as many as I can. They are so easy and accessible."


"That sounds like fun."


"And if it wasn't fun, then I could watch you squirm, and it would be good Schadenfreude."


"You just like saying that, don't you?"


"What? Shadenfreude? Why would I like to say Schadenfreude?"


"I like the word too."


"Let's try to incorporate it into every conversation we have."


"Okay. I guess. I don't know how appropriate that would be."


"The more inappropriate, the better."


"I like your sense of irreverence, Stella. It shows a naughty side of you I didn't know existed."


Stella tapped her fingers on Elfjin and drew the doll close to her face, and pretended to whisper in its ear, "Ha. Ha. We must not reveal the dark side too quickly, no?"


"Okay. That's just plain weird."


"I figure I should be upfront with my quirky tendencies. If you can handle them, then at least you know what I'm about right away."


"Fair enough."


They spent the next hour and a half trading quirks, each trying to outdo the other. It certainly was not the way Gerald had anticipated the evening going. He discovered that Stella didn't drink or smoke, and could hardly stand the smell of second-hand smoke. And while she had been to parties, she didn't like them and preferred gatherings of two or three people. Gerald revealed that he agreed with her about parties. He had a hard time distinguishing voices in a crowd. He called it his attention deficit disorder ear. When amongst a large group of people, if someone wanted him to respond to something, they had to get right next to him and talk into his ear. Some people thought he was deaf, but he just had very selective hearing.


Just as Stella was telling him about her abject fear of possums, Breanna walked in and interrupted their conversation to talk about business exclusive to the floor. She disappeared for a few moments, but then came back and plopped herself on her bed in a huff, clearly annoyed at Gerald's presence.


Gerald took the hint and rose to go.


"Well, I guess it's about that time," he said, looking wistfully at Stella.


"Let me walk you down to the main floor," she said.


And as they parted, Gerald gave her a kiss, more soulful than a peck, but with only a hint of passion, and walked down the sidewalk alongside the dorm. He turned around to once to see if she was looking after him, and she was. He gave an awkward smile, waved, and promised to call her soon.


He called her the next day.


Chapter Fourteen


Crow had never seen a man shot before. Unlike The Colonel, he got a student deferment from the Vietnam War and never joined the military.


So when he saw Higgins get shot down, from 70 feet away, as he crouched in alarm in a dumpster, Crow was shocked beyond belief. He stood and watched as Detective Hartwig rumbled over, gun at the ready, and checked for life before covering the body with his jacket.


And then Crow made a quick escape, staying behind the dumpsters with his bike as a chorus of sirens hove in on the fraternity house. To see such violence left a marked impression on Crow. Every time he heard what sounded like gunshots, he crouched in fear. And this gave Crow the realization that what he was experiencing paled in comparison to the shell shock he'd heard about with soldiers from the other wars, what is currently called post-traumatic stress disorder. Those men and women had seen horrors like what Crow witnessed on a daily basis, and the ever-present threat of a violent death ate away at their pysches.


Crow just complained about having some vivid dreams. And over time they went away. But he put together some pieces. He had an inkling of what had happened Corn Fest weekend, for he recognized Detective Hartwig as the person who talked to Chalmers. And, putting two and two together, knowing Chalmers was a bigger-time drug dealer than Higgins, Crow figured out that Chalmers must have told Hartwig about Higgins, which, in effect, had determined Higgins's fate. And Crow knew that if someone as inconsequential as he knew about this connection, others had to know as well.


Crow figured he would need to watch his back at the Augusta Inn. He didn't want to get in-between whoever was going after Chalmers. Otherwise, it was none of his business, and knowledge better kept to himself.


And it would be better to stay away for awhile and let whatever heat from this blow over. Who knows who saw him at the scene of the shooting. He didn't want to deal with going into the police for questioning. While he had never been harassed by police, being homeless meant he was always susceptible to be charged with vagrancy or any other slew of scoff laws designed to harass the indigent and down and out. Bonneville was a very progressive community, tolerant of outsiders and the mentally ill, as long as they could be tracked and easily-located.


But Crow worked on the periphery. He did his best to not look like he was homeless, thus explaining the well-hidden caches of his stuff. A loaded backpack or shopping cart was a dead giveaway. And he camped in places where he knew he would be undetected, avoiding places where social footpaths tread, usually presenting some kind of obstacle, such as raspberry brambles, or a swamp, to deter the errant intruder.


And this is where Crow lived in the weeks following the shooting, benefiting from a warmer-than-normal November. He ventured into town on Thanksgiving to enjoy a meal at the community center, where he was a well-known volunteer. But no one asked about his absence about town, and he volunteered nothing about the shooting.


After days of struggling to keep warm in the week after Thanksgiving, Crow finally relented and returned to the basement of the Augusta Inn. He could hear from the shuffling of feet overhead that Chalmers was still around, still alive and well, along with his woman and kids.



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

NaNoWriMo day 28

"Your ghost is most likely a Vanderhoy," Morgan said. "Or not. The ghost could not only be from another time, but another place as well. It's not like the nature of the supernatural is fully understood. Or ever will be. Mystery is half its allure to me."


"Yeah, I was never into ghosts before this. I've seen them in movies, but didn't, you know, give much thought into them being real. Or, if they are real, why they even exist."


"As we've seen tonight, supernatural phenomena is a lot like historical research. They exist in a parallel reality, if only we have the lens in which to see them. Apparently, for reasons unknown as of yet, you've been given this window to this phenomena. And I must admit, your case is unique in that the ghost appears so regularly and for such a regular interval."


"Why do you think that is?"


"It has something to do with the nature of the temporal shift. The strings of time in this case may move in a rhythmic regularity, like the rays of the rising sun hitting the back of a cave wall. And speaking of time, I'd better get you back in enough time to enjoy the phenomena."


As Mackey put on his coat to leave, he looked around the living room, which was bedecked in Christmas lights and a tree, with presents underneath it. Leland sat in an armchair reading by his own lamplight. The kids played a board game on the floor nearby. Somewhere, the family dog's collar rattled as it lapped water from its bowl. The air was infused with cinnamon and the lingering garlic presence of the pizza. This is the life, Mackey thought. He wondered if Morgan and her family gave any thought to the good fortune they enjoyed.


And as Morgan dropped Mackey off back at the Augusta Inn, back to his dingy world, even with its window into another world, Mackey felt a little bit of the sadness and futility overcome him again. But he decided to linger in the cold, on the porch a minute, and stare up at the stars through the barren branches of the maple tree in the front yard. He thought of the Vanderhoys, the furniture maker and his family, long gone, but for the quality woodwork,  the stairway, all of the balusters still in place. The glimpses of other lives he'd seen this night stayed with him and while, in perspective, the census data of his own life seemed lacking, he had a sense of the vast history that lay at his feet.


And he recognized he was part of the slipstream, a participant in the continuum, and that someday others in the future may twine their strings of time with his, and Mackey may be the touch of the supernatural in this undetermined future, a mirror holding a mirror to a mirror, ad infinitum.


Chapter Thirteen


Stella Charles had kept every stuffed animal she'd ever received since she was a baby, and knew the provenance of each one. And she'd brought them to college with her. Above her desk, she'd strung a net hammock from her bed post to the top corner of the window, securing each end with layers of black duct tape. The various sizes of stuffed dolls filled out the hammock and piled nearly up to the ceiling. It was a ponderous collection and looked like it was always on the verge of collapse.


This was the first thing Gerald noticed when Stella opened the door to let him into her room. Stella's roommate, Breanna, was on the floor, but working on a project in the main living area. She would appear briefly every few minutes for supplies. By contrast, her side of the room looked barren next to Stella's clutter.


It was a Friday night, and the floor was pretty quiet. ISNU was close enough to the suburbs that it was considered a "suitcase campus." Many of the students went home on the weekends, so the campus lacked some of the vitality of universities of similar size. But Stella said she usually stayed. Her home was a little further away, Lake Forest, on the shores of Lake Michigan. Her commute home involved a bus ride and two trains. She said she made it home once every six weeks or so.


Gerald had surprised Stella earlier that afternoon, tapping her on the shoulder in the student center. After she finished her song on the piano, she stood and gave him a hug, first contact, and thanked him for coming.


The piano was in the common area of the student center and was wired to play itself electronically, which it did during the day, garnering little attention as it provided background music to the passing blur of students and faculty. Stella said she'd figured out how to turn off its player mode, and would sometimes sit and improvise her own jazz and classical melodies now and again to vent off steam when studying. The university's programming director saw her one day and instead of scolding her, he'd remarked how refreshing it was to hear live playing on this piano.


And then he did something spontaneous that surprised Stella, offering her a paying gig, $20 a session to play for an hour or two every Thursday and Friday afternoon at 1. Stella had been doing the gig for two semesters now.


"It seems that no one pays attention," Stella said. "But you wouldn't believe how many times I've been approached and complimented for my music. I kind of like that it is a passive performance rather than before a sitting audience. I think I'd be nervous and too self-conscious otherwise. But here I just cut loose and don't worry about it. The time just seems to fly by."


"I hope I don't ruin it if I hang out," Gerald said.


"Well, sit over there," Stella said, pointing to a couch along the wall behind Stella's line of sight.


And so he did, reading a book while Stella played. Her style lent itself to passive enjoyment, strings of arpeggios and a steady rhythmic sensibility. No structure, but a series of sounds blending into one another. Every once in awhile she'd find a phrase she liked and build around that, changing keys, altering the rhythm slightly, and then returning to the original phrase.


Afterwards, Gerald complimented her. "I can see why you were hired," he said. "You're very melodious, but not intrusive. It's good music to study by."


"It's just a change in routine from the player mode," Stella said, shrugging her shoulders, downplaying the performance.


"How did you learn to play like that? Did you take lessons?" Gerald asked.


"Of course, I took lessons as a child, but I was never the best student. I didn't have enough discipline or know-how or whatever to read sheet music, so I improvise." Stella said. "I did know how to read, but have forgotten over time."


"You don't do any covers?"


Stella shook her head, frowning as if it was a shortcoming, sensing disapproval.


"Oh, no. It's much more creative to be able to conjure your own music. There's a certain boldness and individuality to your approach."


"Music is therapy to me. I've never desired to play in an ensemble or to perform publicly. This gig is the only one I've ever gotten. I've never been in a formal band or anything. 'Doesn't play well with others' describes me to a tee, I guess."


"Well, darn it, I guess there goes my plans." Gerald said, and laughed softly.




"I was hoping we could put a set together and hit the road, you know, set the world on fire, as it were."


"Umm. Not happening." Stella rolled her eyes, and Gerald noticed how young she looked when she did this.


Was he foolish to be interested in someone so young? Was he taking advantage? He knew many of the rules of seduction and was playing them as casually as Stella played the piano. He made sure to be passive, but attentive, ask good questions, maintain eye contact, keep open body language, and read for the small cues of interest and attraction. And so he raised his eyebrows when she stood close to him and pulled back her hair with one hand. Such a sweet move, Gerald thought, and a clear tell. He was wise enough to know when a woman was interested in him. And Stella was naive enough to not hide the signs of her attraction. By Gerald's estimation, there was nothing coy about Stella. And he knew this meeting would end with a kiss. More, if he could have his way, but he wanted to take this slow.


He actually liked Stella. And he hoped he'd outgrown the phase of sexual conquest, where each individual encounter was an event, a non-emotional thing, an experience to be compared with other experiences and nothing more. He was a reasonably good looking man. All it took was a little charm and effort to bed a woman. There was no thrill in that. But to discover, to meet and make contact with another human soul, to be open to love again, he hoped it was possible.


Just as he'd never held a job more than a year and a half, Gerald had never had a girlfriend longer than a year. Mostly this was his fault. As soon as it got boring. As soon they ran out of things to talk about. When that air of uncomfortability, or worse, unconscious ease entered into the picture, it was time to bail. He tended to favor artistic, outgoing types who could complement his more introspective nature. Past girlfriends were always the life of the party, and Gerald, a good listener, could always be counted on to interject the timely punchline.


It's just that inevitably, sooner rather than later, he grew sick of the prattling, tired of having to pretend to pay attention. He was ever restless, ever seeking out a new narrative to explore.


And maybe Stella could be different. She was certainly younger, less jaded, than Gerald's 30-something contemporaries, most of whom had been through the relationship mill, as Gerald had, and were more driven, more desirous of a spouse, babies, or, sadder still, to reclaim their lost youth. In any case, Gerald hoped Stella was more a tabula rasa than all that. Complication was the last thing he wanted in his life. If he couldn't be a monk -- such a notion was impossible, on second thought -- then at least let him maintain a simple existence. Keep things light and easy, he thought. No baggage.


Gerald was surprised when Stella invited him up to her room. This was much more forward than he'd imagined. But when she told him her roommate was around, she knew it for what it was. He was going to be assessed not only by Stella, but from the impartial eyes of a third party, maybe more. No doubt he'd be the topic of conversation well into the night after he left. It was so collegiate. Such a youthful move.


Stella's roommate had the same air of studiousness as Stella, but was not nearly as pretty. Her angles were sharper, the lenses of her glasses a little thicker, the frames bigger. She wore sweat pants with ISNU letters on the butt, and a sweat shirt spackled with paint. Dowdy is the word that came to mind when Stella introduced her. And she was otherwise occupied and made a swift exit.


Gerald sat at Stella's desk, the hammock full of stuffed animals hovering over him. As Stella explained the reason for the stuffed animals, Gerald asked which one of the stuffed animals was her oldest.


She held up a tattered blue teddy bear. One of its eyes was missing and the ribbon tied around its neck was frayed and faded.


"This is Blueberry," Stella said, hugging it to her face and looking at Gerald with a pouty look. "I've had him since I was born. Aunt Edna included him with a congratulations bouquet she sent to the hospital. There's a series of photos with Blueberry and I when I was a baby, up until about age five. In the first one, we're about the same size."


"That's a good idea," Gerald said. "And is Blueberry your favorite one?"


"No, that distinction goes to Elfjin," Stella said. She put Blueberry back and grabbed a smaller, round, green one. It looked like a troll with a pointy felt hat, tiny stuffed pointy shoes, and a pointed nose.


"Really?" Gerald asked. "This one's your favorite? He looks kind of menacing, like a monster in 'Where theWild Things Are.'"


Monday, November 26, 2012

NaNoWriMo day 26

After dinner, Mackey excused himself to go for a smoke. Morgan directed him to the backyard, and Mackey stood in the silence of the snow, a stand of pine trees bordering the backyard. Their yard was big and Mackey stared up at the clear winter night, the constellations bright and visible, a rarity in all the haze and light pollution, especially considering Bonneville's proximity to Chicago. Mackey decided that he needed to stare at the stars more often, that maybe being cooped up was the source of his funk. There were many factors -- the holidays were never easy for one set adrift, when reminders of family just reminded Mackey of how messed up his family was. But people can be good, he thought. A change of perspective can reveal some amazing things.


And as he stepped back through the door, the warmth of the situation and the home enveloped him. For the first time in weeks, he smiled.


Morgan was waiting for him in the dining room, photocopies of various documents arrayed in some semblance of order.


"As you can probably guess," Morgan said as Mackey took a seat, "I've done a little research on your residence and made a few surprising insights. As suspected, the video and audio surveillance we did was inconclusive. Nothing exceptional really showed up. And the electromagnetic wavelength detector didn't do much in your room, but started to go haywire when we were walking to our car. There's definitely some spiritual energy in the air around those places, not uncommon in a historic neighborhood or any other places where humans or even non-humans left an imprint of their presence."


"Non-humans?" Mackey asked. He thought ghosts, if they existed, were only humans. In spite of his recurrent vision of the lady, Mackey was still skeptical about ghosts. He didn't have the same level of belief and interest, obviously, as Morgan.


"Oh, yes. Animals can be ghosts, too. A lot of people maintain contact with their pets after they die," she said. "Anyhow, I was undaunted by the lack of instrumental detection. As you said, the ghost appears only to you. And, of course, during the two minutes when you said the ghost appeared, even though I saw nothing, I certainly felt something. Remember, how I said I felt I was another person, in another time. That's what we call a temporal shift, which is common in time nexuses. Do you still follow me?"


Mackey nodded, but he was looking down at the documents arrayed on the table, wondering when she would get to those. Morgan, sensing his impatience, assured him, "Don't worry. We'll get to that in a minute. I just wanted to give you a little background information.


"Well, in a temporal shift, it is helpful to learn a little more about the history of a location. So, that's what I did. And here's the most interesting find."


Morgan held up a photo of the Augusta Inn. Scrawled in white in the corner was the date, August 6, 1902. The porch then was free of shrubbery, and a horse was tethered to a post near the street. The windows on the second and third floor were in the same locations, albeit with different windows, the kind with slatted panes, but on the first floor were smaller window openings, which appeared to have stained glass in them. Now there was just two large pane picture windows, but the view inside was always obstructed by mangled venetian blinds and a bed sheet.


"Look at the roof," Morgan said, circling her finger.


"Oh, yeah, that looks totally different." Mackey said.


In the picture, the attic windows were the same as Mackey knew them, but where his roof came to a point, there was another box of windows, a small roof peak with a weather vane on top, and a tower with more pane glass windows. Surrounding the turret was a small deck with wrought iron railing around it.


"That's what's called a widow's walk. They are a beautiful feature of older homes, but notoriously difficult to upkeep. No doubt at some point the one at your place fell into disrepair and the roof was rebuilt."


"I know where you're going with this," Mackey said. "The vision I'm seeing is a woman in the past walking on this widow's walk. And from the sad look on her face, she would even be a widow, even though she appears to be younger than most widows."


"Which way is she facing?" Morgan asked.


"I think she's facing west. She'd be looking at the river, towards the sunset."


"That's significant, because then as now, there isn't much of a view to the east, uphill, into the other neighbor's houses. But the westward view, downhill, gives a nice panorama of the river."


"Yeah, there's a house blocking a direct view, but when I stand at the west window and look at an angle to the south, I can see something of that view that maybe she enjoyed."


Morgan pulled forward a series of documents. They looked to be photocopies of phone book pages, small text in two rows on each page, inset paragraphs set in bold.


"Of course, the next thing to ask is, who lived here? From the time it was built, in 1874, Up until about the mid-1970s, the home was the residence of a single family, the Vanderhoys. The earliest census records, from 1880, show a Hans Vanderhoy, a furniture manufacturer, wife Ernestine, two daughters, Wilhelmina and Gertrude, and a son, Hans Jr. The 1890 census is the same. But in 1900 it's different. Hans Sr. died in 1896. Here's his obituary."


Morgan handed another paper to Mackey, who was quickly becoming overwhelmed with all this information, but fascinated nonetheless. He wondered, though, if there would be a big reveal, if, at the end of all this, he would have a name to give to his ghost, or at least some idea of who she was.


"There's not much in the obituary worth noting, other than that the Vanderhoy name is still celebrated by antique furniture collectors to this day. Remember how I noted earlier the surprisingly good condition of the stairway. That's no doubt a legacy of Hans's. He had to have known quality work when he saw it. And may have even done it himself. But let's continue with the census data.


"Between 1890 and 1900, Wilhelmina and Gertrude marry and leave the residence. According to Hans Sr's obituary, Wilhelmina married a vice president of the furniture factory, Paul Blount, and they stayed in Bonneville and raised a family. The Blount family name still exists. One of their heirs owns the Ford dealership here in town."


Mackey was growing impatient. Although historical research was Morgan's specialty, she spent her work days helping researchers and often, nascent geneaologists, out-of-towners unfamiliar with the library's resources. But Mackey's mind, already overwhelmed by the newness of the situation and in a slight buzz, despite time and food, was utterly unprepared for this veritable onslaught of information.


"I'm sorry," Mackey said. "This is just a bit too much. But do you have any idea who my ghost might be?"


"The short answer," Morgan said, "Is 'No.' But it's most likely a Vanderhoy. The last Vanderhoy to live in the house was Margaret, Hans Jr's youngest daughter. She never married and lived the last 20 years of her life after her mother Evelyn died in 1954. There were many women who lived in this house. And we have a couple problems. I don't have any family photos for you to look at and compare to your ghost. And I don't know when the roof was replaced, thus destroying the widows walk."


"It is cool that this widows walk was in my attic room," Mackey said. "I can see where they replaced the flooring where the stairs were going up to it. The wood's different. There's a square pattern. I've got a rug over it, but it's there. But you know what I think is the coolest thing?"


"What's that?"


"Normal people with normal families lived out their lives, you know, lived and died and spent out their days right where I'm living now. And, like you said, there's still little traces of their presence. I've got a ghost, but I guess we all leave little clues of our lives. It's just that most people don't notice that stuff."


"And you're starting to get this kind of awareness?"


"Yeah, sorta. I mean, I gotta confess, most of this ghost stuff, even though I'm the one living with it every night, most of it is just a bunch of, I don't know, it just seems crazy and weird."


"A fair enough assessment, to the non-believer," Morgan said.


"But when you bust out all this stuff, the pictures and the obituaries and all this stuff about people who have lived here, I don't know, it makes sense about that time shift thing you were telling me about. You know what it reminds me of?"




"Back a long time ago, I used to have a boom box, you know, the kind with two tape decks."


"Of course."


"I used to record songs off the radio and borrow tapes from other friends and dub them. And when I would use a tape over and over again, sometimes when I would be listening to it, I could hear very faintly, you know, like in between songs, the songs and stuff that I'd taped over. It was gone, you know, but just a little bit was left."


"You're starting to catch on," Morgan said. "Ghosts don't seem so crazy in that light. And I won't bore you with the details, but if you knew a little more about energy and its lasting imprint, it might give you a little more insight into the nature of the so-called supernatural phenomena.


"I won't lie. Ghosts get a bad rap because there's a lot of people making a ton of false claims. And as part of the ghost hunters club, I see a lot of that -- it's like 90 percent or something of what we do. Which is why you're unique. Clearly, we have someone who's a non-believer, not emotionally invested into the phenomena, you know, seeking out a loved one. This is just happening to you, right?"




"You see, most people come into a ghost hunt with an agenda. They have a conclusion they wish to have confirmed. And you didn't. Plus, I felt something. And I don't think I was affected by the power of suggestion. You didn't go into much detail about your phenomena. It's very tricky, you see. The mind is powerful and can conjure sounds and images to fit a preconceived notion about what one is supposed to experience."


"This is all so complicated," Mackey said. "But the ghost is simple. It's almost more real than all these ideas you're telling me about."


"And you may to be resigned to never knowing just who your ghost is," Morgan said.

"That's okay," Mackey said. "I guess if I'm meant to know, or if she wants me to know, I'll know, right?"



Sunday, November 25, 2012

NaNoWriMo day 25

Maybe life was easier before the ghost, before Mackey questioned his sanity, when a touch of the supernatural didn't come with startling regularity, and when it's common appearance became a new addiction of sorts to Mackey. And now these pangs of longing for love, and for regret at never having known it. The solid wall Mackey had built against feeling such emotions, the defense mechanisms in place since his earliest childhood memories, began to break down with the nightly two minute exposures to the ghost, and he was emotionally unequipped to handle these novel, newfound emotions.

As he rode his bike to and from his factory job, or when he was walking to the liquor store, he'd notice the odd couple, college students usually, holding hands, or a couple with children out at the box store, or even commercials on TV, reminded him of a life he had missed, or did not know could even exist for him. And where there was satisfaction and complacency before, there now was a gaping vacuum, and a sense of loss over what had not yet been experienced and what he could never know. It was too late.

A longing, a want for a better life, to know love could exist, but to also know he was utterly useless and unequipped to take even the first baby steps towards being a man who could love and be loved, sent Mackey into a tailspin of depression.

The heavy drinking resumed. The room got messy again. For the first time in months, he slept through the appearance of the ghost. He grew short-tempered and surly with co-workers. He confined himself to his room and rarely hung out in the dining room. The numbing routine, once a comfort in its predictability, became dread, rote, and Mackey just kept sinking, deeper, and deeper. And the ghost's face grew more and more pained with each night, until one night, Mackey, reeling from a hastily-downed 12-pack, yelled at the ghost.

“Fucking right. You ain't real, but you got it right. That pain you're feeling, babe. That's it. That's all there is. Just you and me and the rest of the ghosts of this world.”

But she showed no other emotions to Mackey's tirade. Moved not. And blinked out as usual at 11:10, leaving not even an afterimage trace of her appearance.

“What can I do to make you real, Steamboat Annie? To touch you? To ease your pain? To live in your time and for you to live in mine?”

It was the week before Christmas and there were no decorations at either the Augusta Inn or Country Acres, except one string of lights in The Colonel's window. “Bah-fucking-humbug to the rest of you,” said The Colonel. But The Colonel was odd that way, and had cardboard cutouts to post on his window for every holiday, even the minor ones like Columbus Day and Veterans Day. But there were no other lights. No Christmas tree. No visible presents. No holiday meals planned. At least not at the rooming house, and few of the townies even had plans with extended family. With the students gone, and virtually half the population missing, both rooming houses felt empty and lifeless. The hubbub and vitality of Bonneville itself seemed drained, as if in relief, as if the party was over before it had even had a chance to swing into full gear.

Heavy snowfall added a further soporific effect. Friday, the 22nd of December, Mackey was sprawled on his couch, playing the same shoot-em-up military game Chalmers had played earlier. It was, in fact, Chalmers's game, loaned to Mackey for the weekend. Of course, Mackey, not having phone service or an Internet connection, did not play within the worldwide network of other gamers. He could pause without impunity.

And so he did, when he heard a knock on the door at the base of the stairway leading up to the attic.

Mackey supposed it was Crow, who would most likely be sleeping in the basement in this weather, and half-hoped it was, because Crow usually brought food and/or something to drink. And Mackey was out of everything except a jug of water and a few crackers. He knew a venture out into the elements was inevitable before the evening was through.

But as he opened the door, it wasn't Crow or even any other resident of the rooming house. It was Morgan, the ghost hunter, who Mackey hadn't seen in over two months. She looked so different, bundled up in coat and with a different hair style, that Mackey didn't recognize her.

He must have shown confusion on his face, for the first thing Morgan said was, “Don't you remember me? We did a paranormal investigation of your room a couple months ago.”

“Don't tell me your name,” Mackey said, pointing a finger straight up. He was embarrassed to realize his voice was slurred. He didn't feel too drunk, but there it was, the lack of motor control in the lips, the sway in his stance, and he was painfully self-conscious of his condition.

Morgan stood there, dripping snow off her boots, creating salt-rimed puddles on the dusty hardwood floor, rocking back and forth on her heels waiting for Mackey to respond.

“Ah hah,” Mackey said. “Morgan.”

“Yes.” Morgan said. She smiled at him, leaning forward, and then looked beyond him up the stairs.

“Do you mind if I come up?” Morgan asked. “I've got some information to share with you, and it may take awhile.”

Mackey hesitated, his face screwing up in concentration. When the pause went on too long, Morgan continued. “Or not. I mean, it's no big deal. I just have some of the results to share with you from our investigation. I'd have gotten ahold of you sooner, but you're painfully difficult to get in contact with. I would have sent you a letter, but I forgot your room number. And, well, you know, life has been so busy. I'm sorry to be so late to get back to you.”

“No. I mean, sure, you can come on up, but I was wondering if you could do me a favor. Do you have a vehicle?”

Morgan nodded her head.

“Cuz I need to get some food and some other things and I was wondering if you could give me a ride. I would understand if you're too busy and don't have the time.”

“No. That's fine. Let me just wait right here while you get yourself together. No need to hurry.” Mackey turned and started to go back up the steps, when Morgan called after him, “I just have to know. Are you still seeing, you know, the vision you told me about?”

Mackey turned around and nodded his head.

“We'll talk more about that later,” Morgan said. “That is so exciting.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Mackey said, and turned back around to climb the steps.

He came back down, clomping, barely staying on the narrow stairs with his leather high top work boots on.

“It's amazing how much beautiful detail remains in this old place,” Morgan said as they descended the stairs. “I mean, look at this banister. One can almost feel the residual auras of all of the people who've ran their hands across it.”

She continued, as they approached the landing, “And look at the carving in this newel.”

“The what?” Mackey said.

“This post here where the railing ends,” Morgan said, placing her hand on the carved obelisk atop it. “You just don't see this level of detail in the newer homes. I wonder who carved it. The time and care put into it. The craftsmanship.”

Mackey staired at the newel. “You know what that kind of reminds me of?” he asked. “That old movie they show all the time on TV this time of year, 'It's a Wonderful Life.' There's one of those in that old house the dude bought and fixed up. And the knob on top always kept coming off.”

Morgan tugged at the one in the Augusta Inn. “See!” she said. “This one's much sturdier.”

When they got outside, Morgan asked, “How long have you lived here?”

“Eight years,” Mackey said.

“Has anyone else lived here longer than you?”

“Now, or ever?”

“Well, since you've been here? I wouldn't expect you to know the entire history of the house, silly.”

“No. I think I've been here longer than anybody. Yeah, Stevie's been in room seven only since 2000. Dang, that's kind of pathetic, I guess.”

“Well, you've probably got the best room.”

“It'd be too much of a pain in the ass to move now. I never thought about it, but I've accumulated a shitload of stuff since I've been here.”

“Such is the American way. Well, I've got a theory about your ghost and the particularity of why you're the only one who sees it, and it relates to the length of your tenure here. But first I have an idea. Are you hungry?”

“Sure. That's why I need to go out and get some food. Why do you ask?” Mackey was wary. He thought she might want to go out and eat, and he didn't want to spend the money or deal with the awkwardness of handling the bill. He hadn't eaten in a restaurant in years and didn't feel comfortable in one. All the noise and people, and he felt self-conscious, as if everyone was watching him eat.

“Well,” Morgan said, opening the passenger door of her mini-van. “Hold on a minute. I've got to get some stuff out of the way for you. Kids, you know, and all their detritus.” She turned away from Mackey for a moment, leaned in and shoved various papers and plastic toys aside, and then turned back to him, stood up, and clapped her hands together.

“Well, it's a Friday night in the world and in my household it's pizza night. My husband makes a mean pie, and it's from scratch, too. I don't want to miss it, and I don't want to feel pressed for time with you because, like I said, I have a lot to tell you. Okay, Morgan, I know you're thinking. Get to the point.”

Mackey nodded his head. He was wearing a cotton winter hat with a fabric ball on the end. The ends of his long, stringy brown hair stuck out extra far from underneath the hat, adding to the comic effect.

“No, it's no big deal. Take your time,” he said.

“Well, I was wondering if you'd come over for dinner. We'll feed you. We won't have to rush. I can take you to the store on the way back if you still need anything.”

Mackey screwed up his face in concentration. “Well, you know I've been drinking.”

“Yeah, but you don't seem schnockered or anything. And don't worry about the kids. Leland will clear them out as soon as the meal's over. Kid movies are a Friday night tradition as well.”

“Kids don't bother me,” Mackey said. “I'm just not used to them, but I was kid once, I guess, so I can relate.”

“So does that sound like a good idea, then?”

“Sure. What the hell.” Mackey acted nonplussed, but he'd been overjoyed at Morgan's presence since her arrival. It was if she was a tonic, a rope dropped down in the miasma of his self-loathing, her breathy giddiness clearing out the bad air for awhile.

Morgan lived on the north side of town, just north of the ISNU campus, in a nicer neighborhood where many of the professors lived. In fact, as Mackey learned, Leland, Morgan's husband, taught physics at ISNU and Morgan worked in the audio-visual department at the campus library, overseeing the video equipment and helping researchers find and use micro-fiche. Her job was what got her interested in ghost hunting as she discovered many written accounts of ghostly encounters in local and state newspaper archives.

On the way to her house, Morgan told Mackey that a possible theory to explain why the ghost was particular to Mackey was because he had lived in the house long enough and unconsciously, or consciously, considering the possible open-minded nature of his personality, he had gotten “in tune” with the latent spirits of the house.

Mackey didn't necessarily like this theory, because he thought the ghost was “his.” He had claimed ownership of her in some way because of the particular nature of her appearance. And Morgan's theory meant that anyone with any staying power in the house, and with any modicum of “open-mindedness” or whatever, would eventually see her. And Mackey hoped no one but he would ever be able to see her. But he never voiced this to Morgan. For even though she was the only person in the world privy to Mackey's supernatural visions, he still was suspect that she would regard him as a kookball.

The pizza was very good. And Leland, putting to rest Mackey's fear of intruding on a family tradition, was very welcoming and seemed to enjoy the extra company. He knew about Mackey's vision, too, but didn't speak more of it other than to acknowledge to Mackey that “you're the one who lives with the ghost in the attic room.” The kids called Mackey “Mommy's ghost buddy” and seemed oddly nonchalant about all things supernatural.

And Mackey was almost overwhelmed by the warmth and kindness of this domestic world he didn't know. Is this in some way how she lived, he thought. He'd never been in such a nice home. When they ate, they ate together. No television set was on. There were no arguments. In fact, there was much respect. The kids said “Please” and “Thank You,” and “May I be excused.” Very polite for being ages five and seven. Mackey loved their banter. The seven year old son, Tobias, talked about playing the marimbas in music class at school and showed off his toothless smile. The daughter, Annabel Lee, was a little quieter and introspective, more like her father, but still lived firmly in the world of childhood imagination. Mackey heard the made up dialogue she had with her doll and said to Morgan, “You know, in all the horror movies, it's always the kids who are in tune with the other world.”

“So true. So true,” Morgan said. “They are so much more open-minded and receptive. As we age, experience and intellect tends to cloud up the signals a bit. To experience the supernatural, one must be able to clear one's mind and tune into that other wavelength.”

Saturday, November 24, 2012

NaNoWriMo Day 24

Even though being healed from the psoriasis restored some of his confidence and he was cutting back on his drinking, his life didn't change that much. His job, building wooden pallets, which he'd held for almost eight years, didn't pay enough to support much beyond a subsistence lifestyle. He didn't have a car. He didn't travel. Didn't read much beyond the occasional heavy metal fanzine or newspapers. Didn't aspire to learn any new career skills. His family was so fucked up, hurtful and dramatic, that he avoided all contact. And he was hard to reach. He didn't have a cell phone or land line. And he didn't have an e-mail. Literally, the only ways to get ahold of Mackey was via US mail or by walking up the two flights of stairs and banging on the door for the stairway leading to the attic. He worked, drank, smoked, played video games, watched the occasional horror movie, and jammed out power chord riffs on his electric guitar. He didn't eat out, and his only excursions away from home besides work and the liquor store, were the trips to the big box store for groceries every couple of weeks. His friends were fellow rooming house residents and Crow, of course.


Until the appearance of the ghost, Mackey never thought much about what was missing in his life. All he knew was that it was a welcome respite, peaceful and predictable, after a life of pain, neglect, and abuse at the hands of his father, mother, and cousins. He'd escaped the white trash soap opera by the time he was 20, even though they lived less than an hour away in a smaller town, Dwight. Love? Mackey never knew it and scoffed at any glimmering perception he got of it in pop culture. Typical of anyone who'd grown inured to an unhappy childhood of neglect and abuse, he craved and found stability in routine and predictability. Nothing in his life to this point had prepared him for the social skills, commitment, and sacrifice it took to build and maintain an intimate relationship.


Which is why the appearance of the woman above his bed each night, ghost, spectral, glowing and otherworldly, apparently, according to the ghost hunter lady, from another time, was as intimate relationship he'd ever had with a women. And it was perfect for someone of Mackey's background and emotional capabilities. She appeared for only two minutes, made no demands, made no contact or conversation. She was an object, a fetish, a personal mirage because only Mackey could see her.


But she'd opened up so many other possibilities. As Mackey lay there each night, eagerly anticipating her arrival, he imagined the anguish on the woman's face, which, to Mackey's imagination, seemed to grow more anxious and pained with each passing evening, was longing for some lost loved one. Which, in its nightly viewing, gave Mackey a glimpse into what love must be like, and in turn gave Mackey a longing for a love which, though painful, would at least make him feel this deeply. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

NaNoWriMo Day 23

Hartwig hesitated for a moment. And of, course, hesitating, he knew the good judge, more perceptive than most, and a lifelong friend, would perceive something in the hesitation.


"You got me, good buddy," Hartwig said. "It was really a mixture of both. I got a tip from an informant and then did a little investigation to confirm, just to make sure, of course. And the tip was right. Is this important in some way?"


"I sure hope not." Giannini said. "When you get so many people involved, they may leave no stone unturned. You may have to reveal this informant. Are you prepared to do that?"


"Not really. I'd rather not. He's been very helpful to me over the years."


"They're going to look into this. And they're going to want to know everything. I have to be as forthcoming as possible. If you can't somehow prove you put in the man hours solely investigating this guy, then I can't guarantee you had probable cause to do the search in the first place."


"I see. I see. I'll have to look over my daily logs and get back to you to see if the time I reported is good enough for the warrant."


"Are your daily logs accurate?"


"Now you insult me, my good man."


The judge laughed. Hartwig could tell from the timbre of the laughter that the judge was in his private chambers at home. For all of his supposed laziness, Hartwig was a damn good detective. He still had an eye - and an ear - for hidden details the average person overlooked.


"Look, Snoopsy. You've got, what? Eighteen months until retirement? A man can't be blamed for phoning it in now and again at this phase of his life."


This gave Hartwig the opportunity to be a little forthcoming. "True. True," he said. "No offense taken. I have felt a little guilty about how this whole deal went down, especially since it was the information I provided that brought the entire incident into fruition."


"Yeah, Snoopsy. But I wouldn't lose any sleep over this. Shit happens. Thibodeaux happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. He didn't do anything wrong. You didn't do anything wrong. Forget the DA. Forget the captain. Forget this Higgins lawyer. We'll get through this just fine, as always."


"Yeah, but there's something I didn't tell you. Nothing that will come back and bite me in the ass, but something that has bothered me ever since it happened."


"What's that?"

"I was told that Higgins would most likely be armed. And, in so many words, I was told about his edgy nature."


"And you didn't tell Thibodeaux about this? Do you think this information would have influenced his procedures regarding the bust?"


"I don't know. I just don't know," Hartwig said. His voice trailed off in resignation. He'd woken up in a bad mood, wistful and lonely. This latest news, even from an old friend, had just made him feel worse.


"Don't kill yourself over this, Snoopsy. That you are feeling some kind of remorse is testament to the goodness of your character. We've all made mistakes. You didn't pull any triggers. The task force was prepared for the possibility that their subject was armed. It probably wouldn't have made a difference."


"Thanks, my good man. I appreciate the heads up. I will make sure all my ducks are in a row for anybody who comes calling. And I'll be prepared to say anything to make this search warrant stick."


"Stay strong. We'll get through this."


"No doubt. Don't eat too much turkey today, okay? I hear their making tryptophan a controlled substance."


"You too. Stick to the breast meat. We'll talk to you soon. Call me any time if anything develops that you want to talk about, okay?"


"Sure, judge. Sure."


Hartwig hung up the phone, replacing it in its cradle on his nightstand. At least I've got something to do today, he thought. I'll spend the entire weekend cleaning up my office. If the captain makes a visit, it would'nt be good for him to see the hell hole it's become.


Hartwig looked around his apartment, the piles of clothes all around his bed, the empty fast food boxes, and more empty two-liter soda bottles, Hartwig's drug of choice. Layers of dust on everything, the bed sheets musty and yellow. They hadn't been changed in months. He didn't spend too much of his off-time cleaning, and he hadn't had a guest in years.


I'll hire a maid for this, he thought, and scanned the floor, looking for his cleanest dirty pants. He wondered whether or not he had the reportable man hours to keep Chalmers completely out of the picture. He didn't want to lose Chalmers, whom he'd had in his radar for more than two years. Chalmers was a known commodity, a link to a larger chain Hartwig didn't really care to investigate, but was in his best interests to keep tabs on.


Hartwig was never like Thibodeaux, and didn't believe in the so-called War on Drugs. All of the millions spent in drug prevention and all the man hours in law enforcement and drug busts had done nothing to stem the rate of usage in Bonneville, or anywhere else around the nation. Maybe, as some purported, law enforcement pressure had prevented drug usage from becoming a scourge. But as certain drugs came into vogue, such as methamphetamine in recent years, Hartwig came to realize that no matter what he or anybody else did, if a person wanted to do drugs, they would find a way. And if there was a profit to made, on the level that was made with drug sales, human ingenuity would overcome whatever roadblocks were presented by law enforcement.


It saddened Hartwig to see the ravaging effects of the harder drugs on the community, and his hopelessness in defending against it. And other than drugs, there really was no other game in town. Every once in a while a person went missing, the random unsolved assault issue, group violence at student events, etc. Sometimes, these demanded Hartwig's detective skills. But drug enforcement was an easy source of revenue, truth be told, and so became the lion's share of his work.


But Hartwig harbored no illusions about the effectiveness of his work. For all the respect his position garnered him in the community, Hartwig felt useless, an organ grinder monkey, playing a song the community wanted to hear to give itself the illusion of safety and comfort.


Damn, I hope I can prove I did enough investigation. But he doubted he could. Most likely Chalmers would have to be revealed. And most likely, considering the zealous nature of Captain Owen Rice, like Thibodeaux, also still a true believer, Chalmers would have to be a casualty of all this dirty business.


And then, Hartwig thought. Then I'll have to work. Because a vacuum will be created and it won't take but a moment or two for the next Chalmers to come on the scene. And Hartwig would have to actually work to figure out who that was.


But that was further down the road, and an inevitability to be avoided if possible. Dressed now, Hartwig went to his refrigerator, took a long draw on an already open two-liter, upending the bottle until it was empty, and then throwing it in the general direction of the garbage can. It landed on the floor and bounced around before coming to rest.


"Flat," Hartwig said. "Can't even conjure a good belch."


And so he farted instead.

Chapter Twelve


Mackey had grown accustomed to the presence of the ghost, but it still hadn't stopped being the highlight of his day. For two minutes each night, her presence was an escape from the humdrum hardscrabble nature of his existence. And, as if in deference to her gracefulness, he felt ashamed to be drunk in her presence, so he stopped drinking hours before bedtime.


He was losing weight and noticing a new alertness in his persona. She also made Mackey long for love. But before he ever had any hope of finding a living, breathing lover even half as classy and beautiful as his spectral Madonna, he had to take care of something that had bothered him for years.


For at least seven years, a spreading rash of psoriasis, starting just below his ears, had spread down his neck, back, and had even moved down his arms. He was able to keep it hidden wearing his usual wardrobe, which included long-sleeved black metal band t-shirts, but was ashamed to be shirtless around anyone. He even refused to take off his shirt on the rare moments when Left Eye Lisa took a shine to him. And because Mackey only drank and smoked cigarettes, that was pretty rare, even though Mackey was one of the younger residents of the Augusta Inn.


Yes, it was time to take care of the psoriasis. He met with a dermatologist, who prescribed a steroid cream and special shampoos and soaps to combat the condition. Mackey dug deep, exhausting his meager funds, to pay for the treatments, but after a couple months of steadfast application, the psorias had abated almost entirely. Some flaky scales persisted under his earlobes, but his arms, back and neck were clear.